Saturday, March 17, 2018

Farwell to a Lovely, Soulful Star

Some movie lovers develop a special identification with key performers, to the extent they feel they have a friend onscreen each time said performer shows up in a movie. My attachment to Dorothy Malone was formed in the 1980’s as a classic-movie mad teen bent on gobbling up as many Oscar-winning performances as possible, though even then I knew Oscar didn’t necessarily equate a great film or performance. However, upon seeing Malone for the first time in Written on the Wind I felt the Academy was damn right in this case, and I sensed something else very special- the soulfulness in those beautiful eyes was hard to shake off, and although as nymphomaniac Marylee Hadley Malone was portraying one of the era’s quintessential tramps, only redeemed near the final-fadeout after causing a wealth of problems for anyone in her vicinity, a warmth and likability was evident as well. I was hooked to a possibly unhealthy extent (I own several posters from Malone films, but few from any other stars).
I have never been able to view Malone objectively- I just love the fact she and her distinct presence is there to gaze upon, and that she had the opportunity to eke out a career of some distinction before the good roles dried up. In mentions of her passing on January 19th, the inevitable reference to the “Oscar curse” was brought up. Although it’s true after her win for Wind Malone never partook of a major hit again until her small but vivid bit in her final film, Basic Instinct, she did interesting and sometimes arresting work in subsequent films: especially likable in Tip on a Dead Jockey, working hard to bring some dramatic intensity to Man of a Thousand Faces and in her biggest post-Oscar role as the ill-fated Diana Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon, and truly memorable and moving in her career-best work in The Tarnished Angels, which provides a distinct showcase for Malone's mixture of wounded vulnerability and world-weary bitterness.
Discovered in college in 1943, the eighteen-year-old Malone was signed up first by RKO before moving over to Warner Brothers, where she paid her dues for a few years in bit parts, before finally gaining attention with her justifiably famous few minutes with Bogart in 1946’s The Big Sleep, slyly portraying the foxiest book shop clerk in film history with great humor and skill. Although she displayed a unique type of intellectual sexiness in Sleep, after her success Malone languished as a reliable ingénue in a series of programmers and Westerns for the next decade, before finally breaking through in late 1954-early 1955 via her memorable May-December tryst with Tab Hunter in Battle Cry and in Young at Heart, both of which gave her some opportunities to demonstrate the emotional depth and erotic restlessness which would become central to her work with Douglas Sirk in Wind and Angels. Heart also featured Malone as a blonde, and the new locks did her plenty of favors- always a beauty, a blonde Malone became distractingly breathtaking onscreen. The major success of Battle Cry helped place Malone third on 1955’s “Stars of Tomorrow” poll, the same year Malone was serenaded by Dean Martin to the memorable strains of "Innamorata" in Artists and Models, one of the best Martin & Lewis efforts thanks to director Frank Tashlin. The upswing continued when Douglas Sirk pegged Malone for her juicy role in Wind, with the unforgettable moment of Malone rumbaing-away upstairs to "Temptation" while her daddy expires up, then downstairs.
After surviving 1960's The Last Voyage, Malone's career reached a nadir with the fun but underwhelming Beach Party before salvation came in 1964 on television's first prime time soap opera, Peyton Place, which set Malone up well for the remainder of the 1960's, bringing her a wider audience than before and providing some financial stability. Although Place focused largely on its cast of young up-and-comers, significantly Ryan O'Neal, Mia Farrow and Barbara Parkins, as Constance MacKenzie, a woman who harbors a secret past (of course), top-billed Malone was allowed the chance to demonstrate some perceptive, intelligent playing. Moving back to Texas to raise her two daughters by actor Jacques Bergerac (the couple were married from 1959-1964), Malone made occasional film and television appearances, turning up in one of television's first big miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man and touchingly as a sweet, dotty, dog-loving mother in John Huston's 1979 cult classic Winter Kills before making a final brief impression in Instinct as Hazel Dobkins, a widow who widowed herself several decades beforehand.
During the recent Academy Award broadcast, the Academy neglected to include Malone in the "In Memorandum" segment, a move that, to at least one loyal Malone fan, proved to be much more inept than the "Moonlight in La La Land" envelope fiasco of 2017. Fortunately the fact Malone has a history as an Oscar winner will guarantee curious classic movie fans will continue to seek out her impressive work as this blogger once did, ensuring her legacy as a fine screen performer will endure.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Looking Back at Kubrick's 2001

I finally made it past the apes, and got Stanley Kubrick’s most perplexing monkey off my back by sitting through an entire screening of his keystone sci-fi epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, with only occasional nod-offs to hinder my progress. I figured the “Dawn of Man” opening of this odd Odyssey was meant to signify Man’s Inhumanity to Man or something, with that imposing black rectangle and eerie voices representing the Almighty, or maybe the Spirit of Mankind. Then again, perhaps this whole prologue could be a pretentious load of crap. I worship frequently at the alter of Kubrick, but I’ll take some of his supposedly “lesser” films (The Killing and Lolita come to mind) over his artsy, and sometimes long-winded and fartsy, years-in-the-making masterpieces.

I wavered in and out of consciousness, hoping Shelley Winters or Timothy Carey would wander in from a prior Kubrick undertaking and liven up the movie‘s slow, meandering tone, as I simultaneously mulled over the fact all the awesome classical music and vivid outer space and outta-site imagery accompanying it don’t completely hide the fact there's nothing of much consequence happening in this Dead Zone for long stretches of the movie‘s 148-minute running time. I know the special effects are impressive and light years ahead of other 1960’s films; however, more than once visions of my old Lite-Brite set were recalled, as familiar psychedelic neon colors filled the screen. The Jackie-O Pillbox hats on those deliberately lumbering spaceship flight attendants (or whatever they are) also scream “1962: A Space Odyssey,” but there’s enough fantastic sights and events on display to understand why audiences have been duly impressed by this mega-hit for decades, even if I still find myself referencing another 1960’s touchstone film as I ponder, “What’s it all about, Stanley?”

To be fair, some of the future is foreseen- that landing pad looks Disco 70’s enough to envision a white-tuxed John Travolta strutting around it as he points up to the landing ships, and one of the spaceships resembled a super-sized R2D2 after a few too many Big Macs (from the Spaceship designs alone, it‘s clear George Lucas must have caught this movie a few times before creating Star Wars, with a little Star Trek glory thrown in for good measure).

The stoically sexy Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood show up after an hour, bringing Hal and the most intriguing storyline with them, and I finally became the involved viewer Kubrick intended me to be up until the point I actually was into the movie. As astronaut Dave Bowman, Dullea anchors his scenes, and his intelligent playing easily takes the acting honors, even though one suspects Captain Kirk could kick that sneaky computer‘s ass deep into the Final Frontier a lot sooner than the calm, reasonable Dave.

With the main, and maybe only, storyline coming to a resolution, you get the idea Kubrick might wrap things up neatly, but he’s still got plenty of artistry to go, leading to a head-trippy and kind-of endless closing act. Upon leaving the theater, I heard a group discussing the meaning of the film’s final images. One young man stated “He (Keir Dullea’s character) was reborn, and went back to change the course of humanity.” Sounds good to me, as his explanation was a lot better than anything I could come up with- it could just be jealousy towards his insightfulness on my inane part, but I pondered if this sage guy’s grandfather wrote for Kubrick, and passed the film's "true meaning" onto subsequent generations.